New cameras compared – Olympus OM-D E-M5 vs Canon 5D Mark III vs Nikon D800

Written by Gary on March 3rd, 2012

In the past few weeks 3 exciting new cameras have been announced, all 3 of them have feature sets which many would have only dreamed of a couple of years ago, so how do they compare on paper:

The specs compared:

Firstly, what they have in common:

  • weatherproofed, magnesium alloy body construction
  • 100% viewfinder coverage
  • 1080i HD H.264 video (up to 29min 59secs per clip)  with audio level control and optional stereo mic inputs
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC memory card support
  • timelapse recording (Olympus and Canon via cable, Nikon in-built)
  • wired remote control (and wireless via optional propietary or 3rd party wired devices)
  • remote TTL flash support (Canon adds radio wireless TTL flash support previously only available on Canon/Nikon via Pocketwizards)
  • HSS/SuperFP high speed sync flash
  • multi/spot/centre-weighted metering
  • AE bracketing 2,3,5,7 frames
  • WB bracketing
  • self timer
  • aperture priority, shutter priority, programmed auto,  manual exposure modes
  • live view (always Live view on the Olympus and automatically switches from screen to EVF; Live View clunky on Canon and Nikon due to presence of mirror)
  • similar shutter ratings of ~150,000 frames (although I believe the Olympus is rated at 100,000 frames)
  • AF assist lamp
  • optional external battery portrait mode grips
Olympus OM-D E-M5
Canon 5D Mark III Nikon D800
Price body only $US999  $US3499  $US2999
Weight 425g/15oz 950g/33.5oz 900g/31.8oz
Size 122 x 89 x 43 mm (4.8 x 3.5 x 1.69″) 152 x 116 x 76 mm (5.98 x 4.57 x 2.99″) 146 x 123 x 82 mm (5.75 x 4.84 x 3.23″)
Sensor 16mp Live MOS Micro Four Thirds size (17.3 x 13mm)  4:3 aspect 2x crop factor 22.3mp full frame (36x24mm) 36.3mp full frame 76.5Mb RAW files!! (36x24mm), 25mp 1.2x crop mode or 15mp DX mode
LCD 3″ OLED, 614K dot 3:2 tiltable, touch. Usable even in bright sun. Just touch subject for near-instantaneous AF and shutter release.
3.2″ 1040K dot fixed LCD, not touch 3.2″ 921K dot LCD fixed, not touch
HD video 1080i 60i (30p); 20 or 17mbps quality; Art filters; Echo mode; 5EV IS for all lenses; C-AF possible; stereo mic; 2x digital zoom; no live video out? no timecode;
1080 30p/25p/24p with i-frame, SMPTE time code, OIS, no C-AF; mono mic; moiré-reduction; uncompressed live video out is only 720p; 60fps only in 720p; no swivel or tilt screen; 1080 30p/25p/24p 8bit 4:2:2 live HDMI out, OIS, no C-AF; mono mic; 60fps only in 720p; no swivel or tilt screen; 36mp sensor may degrade HD video quality due to need for more binning/line skipping; videographers should avoid the D800E as there is no anti-alias filter.
shutter speeds 60sec – 1/4000th sec 30sec – 1/8000th sec 30sec – 1/8000th sec
Burst rate 9fps (AF 1st frame only); 4.2fps C-AF; 3.5fps AF +IS; 6fps with full C-AF x 18 RAW
4fps in FX mode or 6fps in DX mode with full C-AF but requires external battery otherwise it is 5fps.
Lens artefact correction to jpegs  automatically for many dedicated lenses including distortion and lateral CA. Installed via firmware automatically.  automatically for up to 29 Canon lenses for both axial and lateral CA. User must download and install the profiles.  no?
Camera shake aids  industry leading 5 axis 5EV works with all lenses and in movie mode and in EVF; no need for mirror lock up as no mirror optical IS in some lenses; requires cumbersome mirror lockup for critical work at slower shutter speeds or high lens magnifications (macro or super telephoto) but cannot do mirror lockup and self timer together. optical IS in some lenses; requires cumbersome mirror lockup for critical work at slower shutter speeds or high lens magnifications (macro or super telephoto) but cannot do mirror lockup and self timer together.
Manual focus aids Fast, easy 5EV IS stabilised magnified view poor MF aids, magnified view Live Mode cumbersome, no IS support  poor MF aids, magnified view Live Mode cumbersome, no IS support
S-AF fastest and most accurate AF for slow moving subjects; face detect AF; Eye detect AF – can AF on left, right or nearest eye – superb for portraiture/fashion photography!
Average AF speed requires microcalibration for each lens for accuracy; Face detect AF even in phase contrast AF? Average AF speed requires microcalibration for each lens for accuracy; Face detect AF even in phase contrast AF. Sensors work to -2EV light levels.
C-AF 35pt 3D tracking even at f/8 lenses BUT tracking is currently only for slow moving subjects and is unreliable 61pt (41 cross pts incl. 5 double cross pts) very good tracking (phase contrast) but not as highly featured as the Canon 1D X which has a dedicated DIGIC 4 processor for AF and a 100K pixel metering system to support it. Subject-based configuration presets to at last make C-AF configuration easier. BUT NO AF with lenses f/8 or smaller (as with the Canon 1D X)!! 51pt very good tracking(phase contrast); 1 cross and 10 horizontal sensors active at f/8.
ISO range 200-25,600, auto ISO can set upper and lower limit. (no iISO as on Panasonic); 50-102,400, autoISO allows minimum shutter speed as well as ISO limits. autoISO works in M mode.
50-25,600, 5-level focal-length sensitive autoISO
Max. bulb duration 8min including Timed Bulb and Live Timed modes with intermittent visual assessment of image during exposure!
8min?  8min?
flash No built-in flash but bundled compact unit, 1/250th sync, can set slowest shutter speed to use when flash fires in an auto mode.
No built-in flash, 1/200th sync Built-in pop-up flash, 1/250th sync
White balance presets 12 + 1 CWB 6 + 1 CWB 12 + 5 CWB
Scene modes, Art 23 scene modes including 3D Stereo, plus Art Filters Picture Styles None
Exposure compensation +/- 3EV +/- 5EV +/- 5EV
Multiple exposures  yes 2 frames RAW  yes  no?
Viewfinder supports dual axis levels, grid lines, live histogram with histogram of AF region included, image stabilisation for any lens, magnified view mode, aspect ratio view, shutter speed/aperture simulation, art filter effects view, contrast control graph, AF selection
electronic overlay: grid lines, AF selection, customizable warning exclamation mark. AF selection, dual axis levels.
 other compact high quality lens system optimised for video;nice, simple ergonomic controls lower noise at high ISO; narrower DOF possible; fast AF for super telephoto lenses; in-camera HDR; top panel LCD; pro level sports AF features;
high resolution images but large file sizes; narrower DOF possible; fast AF for super telephoto lenses; top panel LCD; pro level sports AF features;
 tilt/shift  easier MF but 2x crop factor; can convert any Nikon lens to a shift lens; can convert most full frame lenses to tilt lenses; can use Canon, Nikon and Olympus OM shift lenses. Widest tilt-shift is only 28mm in 35mm terms (eg. using a Nikon 14mm lens with an adapter).  live mode MF cumbersome but 17mm and 24mm tilt-shift available  live mode MF cumbersome but 24mm tilt-shift available
 connectivity/ extra cards  USB 2.0; opt Bluetooth;  USB 2.0; wifi/Bluetooth; CF card; opt. GPS;  USB 3.0; wifi; CF card; opt. GPS;

Summary of pros and cons:

Olympus OM-D E-M5

  • great value for money
  • compact quiet non-intrusive system with lovely compact and movie optimised lenses delivering adequate image quality and narrow depth of field capabilities for most people
  • industry leading image stabilisation and manual focus solutions
  • fastest, most accurate AF for stationary or slow-moderately moving subjects with option for near-instantaneous AF and exposure just by touching the subject on the touch screen
  • tiltable OLED touch screen
  • lots of visual aids in the viewfinder including being able to activate image stabilised magnified live view easily for ANY lens
  • fast 9fps burst rate albeit with AF only on 1st frame and no IS (a very reasonable 3.5fps for full AF and IS or 4.2fps with AF and no IS)
  • 1/250th sec flash sync with new flashes
  • adequate HD video for most people with some very nice special effect options , unique built-in IS which works on every lens which means perhaps the end of having to work out how to use and carry big expensive camera stabilisation rigs whilst walking and video – the main downside is no 25p/24p mode and no live HDMI out capability
  • ability to use almost any lens ever made including Leica, Canon and Nikon as well as Olympus Four Thirds and OM lenses
  • much easier to use camera and flash system than the Canon or Nikon cameras (flashes are simpler but just as versatile, while the absence of a mirror greatly simplifies the user interface and the many Scene modes and Art filters makes use easier and much more fun and easier creativity is possible)
  • Timed BULB and Live BULB mode makes night time shots on tripods much easier and more fun.
  • smaller and less expensive tripods and backpacks possible
  • less expensive high quality wide aperture prime lenses
  • ability to hand hold longer telephoto field of view lenses with ease
  • underwater housing
  • C-AF may not be adequate for fast moving subjects
  • no WiFi file transfer (only optional Bluetooth transfer to phones of web-sized images)
  • no GPS option at present
  • no radio wireless TTL flash at present (I would think Pocket Wizards would be seriously looking into Olympus support to expand their market now that Canon have entered into their niche)
  • more noise at high ISO but most should be using low ISO anyway
  • DxOMark tests show the new Micro Four Thirds lenses such as 12mm f/2.0, 25mm f/1.4, and 45mm f/1.8 offer comparable optical quality to the full frame pro equivalents (see recent posts), at much less weight, size and cost.
  • jpegs will display on iPhoto on the new iPad3 unlike those from the Canon or Nikon which are too big (iPhoto can only handle up to 19mp)
  • unbeatable as a compact minimally intrusive, light weight travel or social photography kit

Canon 5D Mark III:

  • perhaps the best implementation of a relatively affordable full frame dSLR yet
  • lovely optical viewfinder with fast phase contrast detect AF for moving subjects
  • sensible 22mp sensor promises a much better compromise of resolution, dynamic range, and image noise as well as file storage size compared to the Nikon D800
  • full frame sensor allows even shallower DOF possibilities than the Olympus but for many inexperienced users this just creates more difficulties
  • radio remote TTL flash but flash sync only 1/200th sec could be a deal breaker for strobists and fashion/wedding photographers
  • full use of the wonderful range of Canon L lenses at the designed uncropped field of view – but they are expensive, big and heavy, and the older ones may not be adequate optically.
  • optional GPS
  • 25p/24p HD video but no 60i for slow-mo movies and only mono mic
  • 1/8000th sec allows wide aperture shots in bright sunlight without having to resort to ND filters or polarising filters
  • Digic 5+ processor (same as in the 1D X) is 17x faster than the Digic 4 processor in the Canon 5D Mark II
  • like the Canon 1D X though it cannot AF with lenses at f/8 or smaller so you cannot use an f/4 super telephoto lens with a 2x teleconverter!!!
  • jpegs will NOT display on iPhoto on the new iPad3 as exceed the iPhoto limit of 19mp
  • fantastic, versatile, general purpose full frame dSLR just a pity flash sync is a bit slow and you can’t AF with f/8 lens combos.

Nikon D800:

  • 36mp full frame dSLR but perhaps Canon has the better sensor compromise
  • 25mp 1.2x crop mode
  • lovely optical viewfinder with fast phase contrast detect AF for moving subjects
  • can be used with DX lenses in cropped mode – but what DX lenses are worth using?
  • full frame sensor allows even shallower DOF possibilities than the Olympus but for many inexperienced users this just creates more difficulties
  • 1/250th sec flash sync and radio remote TTL flash but only via 3rd party PocketWizard devices
  • full use of the wonderful range of Nikon F lenses at the designed uncropped field of view – but they are expensive, big and heavy, and the older ones may not be adequate optically.
  • optional GPS
  • intervalometer built in
  • 25p/24p HD video but no 60i for slow-mo movies and only mono mic but importantly for some, it does have live HDMI out
  • 1/8000th sec allows wide aperture shots in bright sunlight without having to resort to ND filters or polarising filters
  • fantastic option for wedding/fashion/landscape photographers who may benefit most from 36mp and will generally use them at low ISO and the high flash sync is a nice bonus compared to the Canon 5D MIII
  • full frame or 1.2x crop jpegs will NOT display on iPhoto on the new iPad3 as exceed the iPhoto limit of 19mp
  • 6fps 15mp DX mode may be very handy for sports photographers as they effectively gain 1.5x crop telephoto field of view whilst keeping file sizes down, plus they can use f/4 lenses with a 2x teleconverter and still get AF.

Final thoughts:

My old Olympus E510 Four Thirds dSLR was capable of making nice 20″x30″ prints, and this new Olympus E-M5 is purported to have substantially higher image quality than the old E510, and now that the E-M5 has most of the features and more that the semi-pro full frame dSLRs have, one has to seriously consider, do they need to pay 3x as much and carry twice the weight and size of a full frame dSLR?

Very few photographers print larger than 20″x30″ if they print anything at all.

The professionals will tend to migrate more to medium format for their landscape and studio work, while the Canon 1D X and Nikon D4 may suit them best if they are sports photographers.

The main issues that really kill image resolution are AF accuracy, camera shake and optical quality, and it is on the 1st 2 of these issues that the Olympus E-M5 has significant advantages over the full frame dSLRs whilst at least being comparable and at times better wide open on optical quality given their  lenses don’t need to cover such a large sensor.

The biggest problem in not getting the photo at all is not having the camera with you – and with this issue, small size counts for a lot – and it is here again that the Olympus wins hands down.

For most of us, the Olympus E-M5 will address our needs very nicely indeed and save us a LOT of money and bulk.

Those who already have lots of pro level Canon or Nikon glass,  wedding photographers, or those who need to shoot fast moving subjects or very low light moving subjects regularly, or want radio remote TTL flash, will look forward to the new Canon 5D Mark III or Nikon D800.

Each of these cameras offer a high level of video features but differ on the details, so the very serious videographers will want to wait until more examples of their video capabilities are exposed, and then also compare them with the likes of the hackable Panasonic GH-2 (a GH-3 is expected to be announced in September), or perhaps a Sony NEX 7.

 

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